Resurrect a Nexus 7 (2012) to run as good as new

The original Google Nexus 7 was some kind of a hit back in 2012-13. It was a nice ASUS-made affordable tablet with a solid construction which had a rather well performing Nvidia Tegra quad-core chipset. See GSMArena for the full specs.

Problems with Android 5.1 Lollipop

Unfortunately the Android 5.1 Lollipop update basically killed the Nexus 7. It was running nice and fluid on KitKat, but choked to death on Lollipop. Long wait times switching from app to another and occasionally the it may stall totally for tens of seconds. The root cause for this is not known for 100% certainty, but it would seem that the problems are related to slow mass memory I/O performance. The Tegra 3 in terms of raw processing power should be quite capable of running Lollipop, even though this release did make many lower end phones and tablets run slower - 6.0 Marshmallow is a whole lot better.

The solution: CyanogenMod

The fix is actually very simple and anyone can do it in 30 minutes.

  1. Flash the device with CyanogenMod 11.2 ROM
  • CyanogenMod 11.2 is based on Android 4.4 KitKat open source code
    • GSM version “tilapia”: Download
    • Wifi-only version “grouper”: Download
  • Installation instructions (Tilapia): Click here
  1. While installing be sure to include Google Apps, in order to get Play Store etc.
  • The GApps are available at Open Gapps project: Download
  • For the Nexus 7 (2012), choose the Pico version. You will have slightly lesser Google experience, but we do not want to bog the system down with additional background processes.
  • Once booted up and running, personally I like to install the Nova Launcher. Nova is light weight, offers nice configuration options and most importantly it seems to be more stable than Cyanogen’s default launcher.

Step by step walk through (Ubuntu 16.04)

Here is a quick recap of the flashing process using Ubuntu 16.04. The process is the same or similar using Windows, except for the installation of Android tools.

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

Installs Android tools.

adb reboot bootloader

Boots your USB-connected Nexus 7 to fastboot mode. Remember to enable USB debugging first.

fastboot oem unlock

Unlocks the bootloader.

fastboot flash recovery twrp-3.0.2-0-tilapia.img

Flashes a custom recovery image to the device. I use Team Win Project and highly recommend it.

adb reboot bootloader

Reboot after flashing.

adb push /sdcard/
adb push /sdcard/

Upload the CyanogenMod and matching OpenGapps images to the device. Now you can boot to TWRP recovery mode, wipe the partitions clean and flash the CyanogenMod and Open GApps images to the device, using the device UI.

Final words

After these steps your Nexus 7 is again a completely usable and useful compact tablet. It can still run a majority of streaming television services smoothly (Netflix etc.), browse the web, run social media or messaging apps and even play some visually impressive games like Hungry Shark. Note that the CyanogenMod will propose an update to CM12.1, which is Lollipop based and will ruin the performance again - absolutely do not upgrade and you can disable firmware update notifications from device settings.

Now enjoy your Nexus 7 until the battery fails and it’s time to move on to something more recent.

Android 6 Marshmallow for Nexus 7 2012

As said in the first post, Google released a very poorly performing Android 5.x Lollipop for this device and then they abandoned the support. Therefore the only sane thing to do is to roll back to Android 4.4 KitKat.

There is however an alternative and more experimental route. The reports say that Android 6.x Marshmallow actually performs better on these old devices than Lollipop. Google dropped support and so did CyanogenMod, so one has to reach out for unofficial alternatives. Here are two good ones.

Android 6 Marshmallow ROMs for Nexus 7 2012 WiFi (Grouper)

Both of these ROMs are well maintained by their developer. They have both released several builds, which have received a lot of end-user testing. They contain updates and security fixes from late 2016. Note that these are totally unofficial ROMs with absolutely no warranty, but I think they are quite safe to try.

Unfortunately there are far less options for the 3G version of the device (Tilapia).

Android 7 Nougat for Nexus 7 2012

While the official support for this device is long gone, the custom ROM development is amazingly active. There is active work ongoing with Android Nougat AOSP ROM, by the same developer as the previous Marshmallow version. It is currently in beta status, so there are some minor issues, but reportedly quite usable as a daily driver. And this time there are Grouper and Tilapia ROMs available.

Android 7 Nougat ROMs for Nexus 7 2012 WiFi and 3G (Grouper, Tilapia)

  • Android 7.x AOSP
    • Under active development. At the time of wriring the latest build is from January 2017 and a work in progress. Some minor open issues.

So there you go - with these ROMs your 2012 Nexus 7 may still remain current and have recent security fixes implemented. Be sure to post your experiences with these ROMs.

Thanks man, I m trying out Nougat for my grouper. hope it works…

1 Like

Hello! Thanks for the hope your article’s bringing to all the disappointed users of N7 under Lollipop! Unfortunately I just can’t use your tricks because, for some unclear reason and after hours of research in vain, i can’t ADB communicate with my N7 2012; actually I tried under Mac, Ubuntu and W7/10; none of them seems to receive information from the USB port (empty LSUSB…) Other Android tablets are recognized and ADB is ok; when plugged into those computer my N7 is charging. OTG is working… If you had a tip that could save my day 5and nights :wink:

PRODUCT NAME - grouper
VARIANT - grouper
SERIAL NUMBER - 015d15b4f85c0611
SIGNING - not defined yet

Hi, great post.
Thank you very much.

ROMs CM 11.2 that you provided links for are not available anymore for downloading.
Do you have those to share? Please.

I found some and it works good.

Did not find CM 11.2, and tried AICP 7.1.2 and CM 12.1 but both not working well.
That is why I am asking if you have to share those ROMs.

Oh bummer - Cyanogen has stopped serving those valuable images. Has anyone found another mirror where they would be available?

Thank you so much for this post. My Nexus 7 Grouper was as good as bricked for more than a year. I flashed AOSP Nougat, and now I have a tablet again!
I just had to remove all my (old) data by resetting completely the tablet, otherwise I was not able to connect to Google servers.

It is always recommended to completely wipe your device partitions, especially when you switch from a firmware release to another.

Sadly, I have not been able to find the original Cyanogen binaries for Grouper/Tilapia. It is amazing that Cyanogen wiped the whole archive of great software releases off the Internet.

There is however this unverified mirror that I found, and I was able to start the download for Tilapia. My device is currently reserved for my kids Lego gaming, so I cannot re-flash it. Could any of you verify whether these images are legit?

You just download from CM site:

1 Like

Awesome @cyril.agard - I was not aware of this Russian mirror still being online, while all the other CM sites have been shut down. Do you happen to know how this one managed to survive, or is this an unofficial mirror?

Sorry, but I don’t know if it’s official or not, just found in the Internet. I’ve used image from that page, and installed successfully.

Thanks, your post was a great help.

I’ve installed Nougat from the link you provided and my Nexus 7 is usable again!
Running: 7.1.2 Grouper OTA-Package (Build 20171208) (md5: f37240dd5583bb870e078a54a8ad8883)

I have also been runninng Andisa’s Nougat build on my Nexus 7 (Tilapia) for couple of months. The overall experience has been positive.

  • There are some occasional slowdowns but in general the tablet is usable.
  • My kid’s games run fine
  • Nougat improved the battery life significantly from what I had with CM11.2 (Android 4.4)
  • Couple of times I have restarted the tablet due to some unexpected behavior, so it is not 100% flawless, but still pretty good.

The ROM is still in active development and latest build was released yesterday, including Android’s security fixes up to January 2018.